Transformation of Liberalism into Authoritarianism


Coubertin regards democracy as a political means of the bourgeoisie which should be applied as long as it is useful. Writing in the times of the great economic crisis in 1929 on the basic conceptions of IOC, Coubertin concludes: “It was first necessary to establish the basic rules of the International Olympic Committee and to have them recognized by all nations. This was not an easy task, since its Constitution was in obvious opposition to the ideas of the day. For it repudiates the principle of delegation so dear to our parliamentary democracies – the principle which, having rendered great services, seems to be less efficient every day.”(1) The “efficiency” of democracy is not assessed according to its possibility of realizing the basic human and civil rights, but according to its efficiency in keeping the workers in submission and ensuring a stabile development of capitalism. At the same time, Coubertin openly states that IOC was founded as an authoritarian organization and is thus a prototype of the political structure of society he was arguing for ever since he set out towards the Olympic heights. It can be said that IOC is a symbolic organic link connecting Coubertin’s original Olympic idea with fascism.

Coubertin doesn’t trust democracy because it is such a political form of the rule of capital over man which is not capable of ensuring a stabile development of capitalism and with its “political liberties” offers a possibility of a political organization of the workers, which at the times of crisis can jeopardize the ruling order. Concerned about the fate of capitalism after the Russian and Munich Revolutions, Coubertin sharply criticizes the bourgeoisie which, unlike the aristocracy, neglected the “care” about the workers and thus turned them against the ruling order. Coubertin: “The capitalist bourgeoisie is taking a risk of paying a high price for the selfish calculation that made it establish democracy. It has never wanted to help the working class acquire other skills except the ones that can make its service more productive by increasing its productive capabilities. It even denied it access to those neutral knowledge’s which, as it was nicely expressed by priest Wagner, offer ‘access to a sublime life’. It created spiritual wealth and keeps it under close watch so as to preserve its monopoly.” (2) In fact, Coubertin wants to say that the working “masses” were given the civil rights only to help the bourgeoisie to overthrow the aristocracy and seize power, and that it did not build an adequate mechanism of spiritual control over the workers which at the times of crisis would efficiently pacify (depolitize) them and thus “neutralize” the possibility of enjoying the (formal) rights they won.

Instead of a social order based on the “rule of law”, Coubertin advocates the establishment of a new order of privileges analogous to the feudal order. He does not argue for ancien régime since that order, like the Christianity, proved to be incapable of keeping the “masses” in submission. Coubertin opts for the bourgeoisie and entrusts it with a “historical” task to restore, by way of sport as the modern (positivist) religion, the indisputable dominant status of the nobility before the French Revolution, to give the working “masses” and the woman the status they had before the Revolution and to for ever deal with the emancipatory heritage of civil society and national cultures. He seeks to create a peculiar bourgeois aristocracy which claims power not on the basis of its “blue blood”, but relying on its power to gain it and its resolve to maintain it for good. Not a divine authority, but the authority of sheer force, which appears in the guise of a “natural right” – that is the power order should be based on. It is no accident that from the “heroic age” of ancient Greece, when demos had not yet appeared on the political scene, Coubertin creates an idealized picture of the world which serves as a civilizatory excuse for the Social Darwinist order he advocates. In the civil and human rights Coubertin sees a concession which the ruling “elite” had to give in order to preserve power – only one lost battle in the war between the “rich” and the “poor” (working “masses”) that has been going on since the beginning of time – an evil which should be dealt with once and for all. From such a political conception comes also Coubertin’s “utilitarian pedagogy”: to militarize the bourgeoisie and to create from it, through sport and physical drill, a “master race” is it’s most important task. The more sport and Olympism we have, the less democracy there is! – This could be the “practical” postulate of Coubertin’s Olympic philosophy. “The seeds of authoritarianism” in Coubertin’s conception, were planted with Comte’s idea of progress, which is the guiding principle of Coubertin’s Olympic philosophy. Marcuse: “Comte’s belief in the necessary laws of progress did not exclude practical efforts in the direction of such social reform as would remove any obstacles in the path of these laws. The positivist program of social reform foreshadows liberalism’s turn into authoritarianism. In contrast to Hegel, whose philosophy showed a similar tendency, Comte slurred over the fact that the turn is made necessary because of the antagonistic structure of civil society. Classes in conflict, he held, are but vestiges of an obsolete regime, soon to be removed by positivism, without any threat to the ‘fundamental institution of property’.”(3)

At the time when capitalism appeared the oncoming bourgeois class fought for a “civil state” not in order to abolish the class privileges and for the sake of human emancipation, but to acquire power. At the time of strengthening of capitalist dynasties and the creation of colonial empires, Coubertin tries to bring things to a conclusion: the ruling bourgeois “elite” is to create such a political system that will insure indisputability and eternity of its power. In the new circumstances, the advocation of the original conceptions of liberalism becomes for “progress” a harmful moralism – it does not meet the interests of the class for which it was created, which means that it is at odds with the political spirit of liberalism on whose wings develops Coubertin’s conception. Coubertin clearly refers to that when he speaks of the workers (as well as of the “lower races” and the woman) as of people deprived of their elementary human and civil rights. The principles the new bourgeois class used in the 17th and 18th centuries to come to power and achieve its political and economic interests, now appear dangerous, for they offer a possibility to the proletariat, the child of industrialization, to come to power by using the instruments of the “civil state”. Political realism is the basis of Coubertin’s utilitarism and here Coubertin does not differ much from his predecessors. Indeed, his ideas are different from theirs, but politically he shares the same standpoint: he too defends the interests of the bourgeoisie by adapting to new historical circumstances. Hence it is no accident that libertarian impulses of liberalism appear not in Coubertin, but in Marx and his followers: Marx is the advocate of the emancipatory (universally human) spirit of liberalism, as opposed to Coubertin who argues for its political (class) spirit.

Coubertin’s Olympic doctrine deals with the emancipatory ideas of the French Revolution which are the basis of man’s inalienated “human rights” (droits de l’homme) and of the “rights of the citizen” (droits de citoyen) and thus are the foundation of modern legislation. Speaking of the French Revolution, Coubertin concludes that “only the form changed while the essence remained the same”, (4) from which follows an endeavour to abolish all those (customary, religious, moral and legal) norms and institutions that serve for the protection and execution of those rights. For Coubertin, the relations in feudal society are also “democratic”, although not so democratic as in civil society. To what extent Coubertin, fighting for an absolutization of the (self) willedness of the ruling “elite”, ignores the acquired level of civil and human rights, can be seen from his shameful bearing in the “Dreyfus affair”: instead of asking from those who were campaigning against Dreyfus to prove their allegations, Coubertin asks the accused to prove his innocence! Coubertin, with an aristocratic contempt, mocks the guiding principles of the Revolution, proclaiming them a sheer nonsense. He denies man the right to freedom: man is not born free, but as a master of a slave, depending on his race, gender and class. Coubertin, then, denies man the right to equality: “It is useless to fight against the oldest and basic social law – the law of inequality”, (5) claims Coubertin. Interestingly, Coubertin reduces the claim to equality to the claim to uniformity, “overlooking” the fact that equality logically presupposes individual differences. The privileges acquired by birth are the foundation of Coubertin’s theory on human rights. Racial, class and gender differences are the basis of human (social) inequality. As far as the principle of brotherhood is concerned, Coubertin denies that human beings are brothers: “Brotherhood is not for people – it is for angels”, (6) claims Coubertin reducing the bourgeois to a “civilized” beast, the worker to a “beast of burden” and the woman to a sow with a halo. The abolishment of the rights of the oppressed to a happy life is another Coubertin’s contribution to the “perfectioning of the world”. Here Coubertin shares the view of De Maistre: the misery of the oppressed is inevitable and is thus the source of a “happy life” of the master “elite”. Coubertin also deals with other basic human rights. The man’s right to life is subordinated, as we have seen, to the right of the order to survival: war is the highest test of “a male’s maturity”, while readiness to kill and capability of killing another human being represent the cardinal human virtues. What Coubertin took over from the revolutionary spiritual heritage of the bourgeois class from the 19th century is nationalism, which was to become the main tool for fanaticizing both the bourgeois youth (colonialism) and the proletariat (destruction of the class conscious). Olympism becomes the means for directing the dissatisfaction of the oppressed against other nations and for concealing the class exploitation – in the guise of a “fight for the national interest”.

Speaking of Comte’s “positive theory of authority” Marcuse concludes: “Comte outlines a ‘positive theory of authority’, envisaging a society with all its activity based on the consent of individual wills. The liberalist tinge of this picture is shaded over, however. The instinct to submit triumphs, as the founder of positivist sociology renders a paean to obedience and leadership. ‘How sweet it is to obey when we can enjoy the happiness … of being conveniently discharged, by sage and worthy leaders, from the pressing responsibility of a general direction of our conduct’. Happiness in the shelter of a strong arm – the attitude, so characteristic today in Fascist societies, makes juncture with the positivist ideal of certainty. Submission to an all-powerful authority provides the highest degree of security. Perfect certainty of theory and practice, Comte claims, is one of the basic attainments of positivist method.” (7) Unlike Comte’s man, Coubertin’s man has not reached the level of development where he would have his “own will” which, trying to insure a more certain existence, he can “voluntarily” transfer to a higher authority. Included from his early childhood in the hierarchy of relations based on the principle “might is right” and natural selection, man can do no more but oppress the weaker and court the stronger – in order to survive. Human “will” moves between the tyrannical power and the instrumentalized “mercy” of the ruling “elite”, the key levers with which social order and peace can be insured. In addition, according to Coubertin, the oppressed cannot count on happiness, only on misery. Coubertin, a “humanist”, offers a “sports republic” where sufferings of the oppressed will be alleviated, not because they are to be helped, but to decrease “the hatred” that the poor have for the rich and thus prevent their struggle for a better world. In that context, Coubertin, unlike many other bourgeois theorists, does not regard sport as a means for protecting the main values of capitalism, (8) but as a reward to the oppressed for their obedient acceptance of the order in which they are deprived of their basic human and civil rights.

Comte seeks to form a special body which will take care of the strategic interests of capitalism and will be the indisputable source of the ruling political will. He insists on the authority of a systematized and indisputable “knowledge”, based on an absolutized authority of facts – which becomes a peculiar (positivist) “Holy Scripture”. Marcuse writes on that: “Social questions, because of their complicated nature, must be handled ‘by a small group of intellectual elite’. (…) All the sciences will be poured into the same crucible and fused into a well-ordered scheme. All concepts will be put to the test of ‘one and the same fundamental method’ until, in the end, they issue forth ordered in ‘a rational sequence of uniform laws’. Positivism thus will ‘systematize the whole of our conceptions ‘.” (9) Following Comte, Coubertin establishes IOC as the supreme spiritual body with an authoritarian character as the main source of the ruling political will – which looks after the strategic interests of the ruling parasitic classes. The members of IOC become the “holy guardians” of capitalism who are “self-elected” (among the most eminent representatives of the “elite”) and are not responsible to anyone. Diem cites Coubertin’s words about IOC, which are intended to justify the fascist rule in Germany. “We are not elected; we are self-recruited, contrary to the public opinion which is getting more and more used to putting all organizations into the yoke of the electing principle. Independence and stability is what allows us to perform great acts.” (10) Modern Olympism is the reaction of the bourgeoisie to the ideas and movements that seek to overcome the established (capitalist) order and a way of dealing with the idea of future. It is of its nature a totalitarian spiritual movement and is thus the tool of the ruling “elite” for preventing the ideas “competitive” to capitalism from being developed. “Free competition” is possible only on the basis of and within an indisputable domination of capitalist ideology. Only the views that contribute to the “perfectioning” of the established order are acceptable, but not the ideas that can become the political platform of people deprived of their rights in the struggle for just society. Political pluralism and positive society are incompatible. In Olympism, “freedom of choice” and the end of history coincided.

If we compare Coubertin’s conception with the doctrine of John Stewart Mill, we shall see that, unlike Coubertin, Mill does not depart from man’s animal nature, nor does he abolish the civil state; his philosophy propounds a radical elitism that becomes a form of legitimizing political authoritarianism – which is characteristic of Coubertin. Mill: “No government by a democracy or a numerous aristocracy, either in its political acts or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters, ever did or could rise above mediocrity except in so far as the sovereign Many have let themselves be guided (which in their best times they always have done) by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed one or few. The initiation of all wise or noble things comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one individual. (….) It does seem, however, that when the opinions of masses of merely average men are everywhere become or becoming the dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency would be the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on the higher eminences of thought.” (11) Trying to prevent the citizens from becoming relevant factors in the establishment of the political will of society – one of the basic demands of liberalism – Mill deprives the citizen of reason (which is present in Bacon, Hobbes, Lock, Rousseau, Bentham), which is the basis of “social contract” and “civil society”, and establishes a monopoly over “intellect” as the source of the ruling political will, in the hands of the ruling class. The citizens are no longer a constitutive factor of the ruling political will, let alone the bearers of progress, but are reduced to a “mass” of idiots as opposed to “talented” individuals who are expected to establish a “balance” between stupidity (incapability of making “real” political decisions) and cleverness (capability of making such decisions). “Talent” and “knowledge” lose their evaluative, and acquire an objective dimension, which becomes a mask hiding the prevailing interest: making clever (political) decisions becomes the privilege of the ruling “elite”. Mill tries to deal with the democratic formation of the citizens’ political will, which means with the struggle between different political interests and thus with the development of “public dialogue” and “democratic publicity”: depriving “common people” of intelligence becomes a form of making the working people unsuitable for defining the political will of society. Instead of Comte’s social engineers, Mill offers peculiar social sages who determine the direction in which society is to develop. Expressed in the modern way, it is the creation of a “council for strategic issues”, which through the prism of existential and long-term interests of the ruling class will estimate the correctness of political decisions of the current authority – and this is the role that Coubertin gave to IOC. Since they are the indisputable bearers of “wisdom”, any critique especially that by the “lower classes”, is meaningless: the authority of God is replaced with the authority of “knowledge”. The realization of such a concept involves the establishment of the authoritarian power capable of compelling the “common people” (“lower classes”) to obediently accept the rule of one (dominant) will. Practically, it is a fight against the pluralism of ideas and political pluralism. “Social order”, which should enable a stable development of capitalism and insure indisputable rule of capitalist monopolies, becomes the supreme political principle.

It is no accident that in Coubertin, just as in Mill, a call to equality in society comes down to a call to people’s uniformity. The starting point for determining the “difference” between people are not their individual faculties and talents, but their social position and class, reason being the exclusive quality of the ruling classes. However, the very demand for reason, as well as for the observance of norms that are obligatory on all, is opposed to Coubertin’s positive voluntarism. Coubertin seeks to replace the democratic order, in which the “number” is the determining factor, with an order in which a self-recruiting “elite”, from the richest social stratum, has indisputable power. His ideal political structure of society is the one in which the “elite” can gain absolute power over the working “masses”. Unlike Mill, who, like Plato, expects the “most intelligent” people to direct the development of society, Coubertin thinks that the “bearers of progress” are those most loyal to capitalism and most determined to defend it: Olympism is not founded on the rule of reason, but on the rule of force. In addition, it is not the individual free will and reason that are the starting points for establishing volonté général as the foundation of social (civil) community, but it is the “interest of the race (nation)” behind which are hidden the class interests of the bourgeoisie. “The universal” becomes the means for absolutizing and totalizing the dominant will of capitalist monopolies. Modern Olympism excellently demonstrates the endeavour to present the partial interest of the bourgeoisie as the “universal interest” of mankind. The symbols used in mythologizing the Olympic Games (“peace”, “international cooperation”, “progress” and the like) are a “smoke-screen” hiding the true nature of the Games – which is totally opposed to the proclaimed “Olympic ideals”. The very fact that the leading people of IOC (Pierre de Coubertin, Henri de Baillet-Latour, Sigfrid Edstrøm, Avery Brundage, Juan Antonio Samaranch…), during the one hundred years of its existence, have been the members, propagators and open sympathizers of the fascist parties and movements clearly shows the true nature of modern Olympism. The insistence on the maxim that “sport has nothing to do with politics”, on the part of the Olympic officials and the ruling oligarchies, is only a hopeless attempt to conceal the truth that Olympism (sport) is the exclusive means of the ruling class for spiritual enslavement and pacification of the oppressed.

Coubertin proclaimed utilitarism the cardinal principle of his Olympic doctrine. There are no civilizatory obstacles to the ruling self-willedness: everything is allowed and justified if it is of benefit to the ruling class. Underlying Coubertin’s conception is the characteristic logic of monopolistic capitalism contained in the principle: “Destroy the competition!” It is an endeavour to turn the increasing economic power of the capitalist monopolies into a totalitarian and global political power of the bourgeoisie, capable of dealing once and for all with the emancipatory heritage of modern society and libertarian struggle of the oppressed. The concentration of the ever greater economic power in the ever fewer number of hands, on the one hand, and the increasing number of those deprived of their rights approaching the possibility of dethroning the ruling oligarchy, on the other hand – this is the starting point of Coubertin’s doctrine. At the same time, Olympism involves a unity of the struggle for survival and the struggle for preserving the ruling order. This is what completely integrates man into the existing world and appears in sport in a “pure” form: it is not the institutions and norms, but the ruling capitalist relations that become an indisputable totalizing power.

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